Every post-2000 Premier League-winning team’s unsung hero
Manchester City are Premier League Champions for 2017/18.
The Sky Blues have been magnificent this season, with plenty of players excelling to the point where they can only draw the wave upon wave of adulation from the adoring fans at home and abroad. Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sané, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, David Silva… everyone showers these players with praise – but what about the lesser lights? The unsung heroes.
And what about unsung heroes from previous Premier League triumphs? We here at Squawka have gone back and looked at the title winners from each season since 2000 to come up with our shouts for their unsung heroes. Who were they? Read on and find out!
1999/00: Nicky Butt
32 appearances for Manchester United
It’s hard to say any Manchester United player from the Premier League win in 2000 was unsung, as it was mostly made up of their historic treble-winning side from the previous season. Nicky Butt was a combative force in the middle of the field that managed to elude praise despite providing key squad depth behind United’s super starters.
2000/01: David Beckham
31 appearances for Manchester United
Around this time, David Beckham became everyone’s hero for his displays with England. What goes unappreciated is just how good he had become with Manchester United. Nine goals and 12 assists were impressive numbers, made more so by just how fundamental the winger was; so much of the Red Devils’ play flowed through him.
2001/02: Sylvain Wiltord
33 appearances for Arsenal
Thierry Henry and Robert Pires understandably took many of the plaudits as Arsenal won the title in 2002, ending United’s three-year stranglehold in impeccable fashion by winning it at Old Trafford. The man who scored the goal that day, Sylvain Wiltord, was a key contributor for the Gunners that year (10 goals, 7 assists) and never gets remembered as he should.
2002/03: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
37 appearances for Manchester United
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could have claimed this role after literally any of his seasons with Manchester United, such was his legendary prowess for scoring despite limited minutes. But it was 2002/03 where he was perhaps least appreciated as he featured in all but one game spent copious minutes at right-wing, playing so well that he benched David Beckham.
2003/04: Gilberto Silva
32 appearances for Arsenal
With a dazzling side full of superstars, Arsenal won the league without losing a game in 2003/04. Their heroes are known, but the man that allowed their magical midfield to flow as well as it did was defensive fulcrum Gilberto Silva. A truly unappreciated gem of a midfielder.
2004/05: Claude Makélélé
36 appearances for Chelsea
Claude Makélélé was so good for Chelsea that the press in England began calling defensive midfield “the Makélélé role” – this was absurd, but does go some way to highlighting his excellence. Frank Lampard, John Terry and José Mourinho stole the headlines, but it was Makélélé who made it all possible.
2005/06: William Gallas
34 appearances for Chelsea
With Makélélé fully appreciated as a defensive miracle by this point, someone else had to step up and shine. That man was William Gallas. Played alternately as a centre-back and left-back, the volatile Frenchman was a stalwart defensive presence and scorer of crucial goals: an opener against Liverpool, a last-minute winner against Spurs, and the first goal on what turned out to be a title coronation vs. Manchester United.
2006/07: Louis Saha
24 appearances for Manchester United
Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were the undoubted heroes as Manchester United snatched their Premier League title back after a three year drought. But the reason that fluid duo could work is that they had a tremendously intelligent and selfless No.9 in Louis Saha. The Frenchman was often troubled by injury but stayed fit and led the line with aplomb.
2007/08: Wes Brown
36 appearances for Manchester United
With stalwart right-back Gary Neville out injured, United needed a solution. Lucky for them Wes Brown, whose own career had been plagued by injuries, was fit for an entire season and slotted in superbly. United became the world’s best side and retained their title, thanks in no small part to Brown’s consistent brilliance at right-back. He even got an assist in the Champions League final!
2008/09: Michael Carrick
28 appearances for Manchester United
Michael Carrick ended this season with his third consecutive title since joining Manchester United and was becoming a crucial part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. The metronomic midfielder was exerting tremendous influence over games, protecting his much-heralded defence and supplying the much-loved forwards. He even scored the goal that clinched the title, but rarely gets the credit for his excellence.
2009/10: Joe Cole
26 appearances for Chelsea
Joe Cole was in his last season for Chelsea as they stormed back to claim the title. But while everyone remembers their incredible flourish to finish the season, no one remembers that with just five games left it was Manchester United who were top. A 1-2 win at Old Trafford, where Cole scored the opening goal, sent Chelsea into first place and allowed their victory lap.
2010/11: Ji-Sung Park
15 appearances for Manchester United
Mr. Big Game Performer – Manchester United recovered from a slow(ish) start to win the title in style. But while Nani had the league’s most assists, and Dimitar Berbatov the most goals, and Wayne Rooney’s stunning displays stole headlines – it was Ji-Sung Park’s relentless industry, tactical intelligence and goal against Arsenal that was one of the key unsung parts of United’s big win.
2011/12: Pablo Zabaleta
21 appearances for Manchester City
Pablo Zabaleta spent much of the 2011/12 season battling with Micah Richards to be City’s first-choice right-back. Many favoured the Englishman, despite Zabaleta’s rugged skills granting him cult hero status. The Argentine even scored the opening goal in the closing day’s epic 3-2 win, a goal which is often forgotten but hugely important.
2012/13: Javier Hernandez
22 appearances for Manchester United
Robin van Persie and Michael Carrick took all the plaudits as they starred in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season in charge, driving United to the league title in supreme fashion. But Javier Hernandez’s goalscoring won United a surprising amount of points, and without him those epic wins against Chelsea, Newcastle, Swansea and Aston Villa their triumph wouldn’t have been possible.
2013/14: Edin Dzeko
31 appearances for Manchester City
As Manchester City snuck in to win the 2013/14 league title, Yaya Touré and his frankly ridiculous 24 goals took the majority of the headlines. And rightly so, of course. The Ivorian was majestic. But just as important to City’s win was Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko, whose crucial (and overlooked) goalscoring in the run-in allowed City to triumph over Liverpool.
2014/15: Branislav Ivanovic
38 appearances for Chelsea
José Mourinho’s Chelsea bullied their way to Premier League glory around the twin talents of Diego Costa and Eden Hazard, with John Terry having a superb swansong season starting every game in defence. While those guys took all the praise, Branislav Ivanovic started every game as well, adding an overlooked ruggedness to the Chelsea defence.
2015/16: Shinji Okazaki
36 appearances for Leicester City
The Japanese dynamo was not one of Leicester’s “holy trinity”, nor was he one of their defensive stalwarts, so his name is often lost in the mix of just how the hell Leicester managed to actually win the title. But Okazaki’s excellent skill, work rate and superb ability to press his opponents made a world of difference in attack and freed Jamie Vardy up to terrorise opponents with his runs in behind.
35 appearances for Chelsea
It’s hard to be unsung when you’re as dominant as Chelsea were on 2016/17, but with Diego Costa and Eden Hazard (hey, them again!) taking all the headlines in attack, the canny Pedro slipped under the radar. With nine goals and nine assists (including a crucial game-changing one just seconds into a tie against Manchester United) Pedro was a key contributor.
30 appearances for Manchester City
Manchester City took Chelsea’s dominance and multiplied it by a factor of awesome for their 2017/18 title triumph. Their five attackers were all majestic and their two creative midfielders are heroic. At the back they have a show-stopping goalie and their full-backs draw a lot of praise and attention. Quite unappreciated, however, is the quiet man in the middle of it all: Fernandinho has been the fulcrum of City’s midfield dominance, helping his team defend and attack with quiet assurance. As Guardiola himself has noted, without him there would be no success this season.
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